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Public transport is the big issue for this year and next

By Yamin Vong

Our NST Cars, Bikes & Trucks motto is “Home to the mobility community”. In addition to test drives of the latest cars, we’re also fired by efficient transport, whether it’s motoring for pleasure and business or getting to work by bus or motorcycle on a daily basis.

As you can imagine, last month’s revamping of greater Kuala Lumpur’s bus transport system grabbed our attention because of the spate of complaints to the editors of the nation’s newspapers.

As a journalist, part of my day’s routine is going through the English newspapers and it struck me that there had been no prior communication campaign in them apart from the press release issued by SPAD about a Bus Network Revamp. We in the NST CBT had dutifully published this press release in our website.

In fact, we had been alerted months earlier to SPAD’s indifference to the public’s convenience when it changed express bus routings from the venerable Pudu bus to TBS with almost no publicity campaign. Pity the Mak Ciks and Pak Ciks from the kampong who come to the city only when they need to, like visit a sick relative in UHKL, and
are shocked when they disembark at TBS instead of Pudu.

On Tuesday (Dec. 29) we chatted about this with four SPAD staffers and they admitted that their BNR publicity campaign was insufficient. The effort included 100 or 200 students and staff who went on the ground to distribute brochures at the various bus stops.

SPAD’s Communication Division also issued a statement about our editorial “Good Intentions dissipated by the baggage of history” that said: We have deployed a number of communication activities to keep the commuters informed including ground engagement to distribute brochures, wall size posters and 10 bus information panels in key bus
hubs, public service announcements on mainstream radio stations, and BNR print advertisements showcasing eight corridors and routes in main vernacular newspapers. We have also utilized our online channels to continuously publish information and updates on BNR on our social media channels – Facebook and Twitter for our digital outreach efforts.Additionally, our SPAD Aduan platforms are available for the public to reach us for any complaints or feedback.”

It’s good that SPAD advertised the eight corridors and routes in the newspaper but we hope that SPAD communicates its programmes before rather than after the event.

Revamps in the mass public transport are for the good of the public. The effort can be better appreciated if the public knows what is being done for them. In this Bus Network Revamp, people will get upset when RapidKL buses are replaced by Metro buses because Metro buses are dirty and unpleasant compared to glamorous RapidKL buses.

On the other hand, commuters who are used to the “get all the passengers” style of the Metro bus drivers will get fed up by some RapidKL bus drivers who pretend not to see passengers at bus stops and whizz by aloofly.

The different modes between RapidBus and Metrobus is an issue that SPAD should address:
It must recognise that the employment and salary guaranteed RapidBus drivers should have an incentive scheme so that the bus drivers are accountable for ridership.Regarding Metrobus, SPAD has to seek a solution so that this
operator which has franchised out some of its routes is able to comply with the guidelines and be entitled to claim some of the subsidies to help it maintain its buses, if not profit.

SPAD has to be big-hearted about this if it is sincere about helping privately owned bus operators. And the public should be aware that RapidKL buses are clean and new because Rapidbus is government-subsidised and paid for by taxes. Metrobus on the other hand is privately-owned and has to make every penny count

SPAD, Uber and ride hailing apps.
Again on land public transport and this time about taxis.Malaysia’s public transport woes largely stem from the social economic engineering of the New Economic Policy, the 20-year policy that started in 1971. Even though the NEP officially ended in the 1990’s, it persisted under different names and while affirmative policies increased GDP by several times over that period of time, it also created a rental culture which is the curse of Malaysia’s taxi
industry, cited as being the world’s worst by a UK cab website.

Ride hailing apps led by Uber and home-grown GrabCar present Malaysia’s best chance to live down the notoriety.
The extraordinary advantages of Uber are such that if Malaysia would be to legalise ride-hailing apps today, half of taxi drivers would switch.

Conversely, SPAD is not able to effectively enforce the law against Uber and other ride-hailing apps.
The engagement between the government and owners of ride-hailing apps starts with …?

Surprise Surprise. It starts with the government. Again we have to contend with some unwelcome aspects of social engineering. With the NEP came the Commercial Vehicle and Licensing Board (CVLB) and the hiving off of commercial vehicle regulation from the Ministry of Transport to another Ministry.

The CVLB has been dismantled and the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) created in its place.
Theoreticaally, it’s powerful. According to lawyer R. Kengadharan who’s representing the KL Valley Taxi Drivers Action Committee, Section 258 of the SPAD Act provides SPAD total immunity from the law. “It protects SPAD absolutely, and there can never be absolute immunity. It goes directly against Article 8 of the Federal
Constitution, which states that everyone is equal before the law,” Kengadharan told the Malaysian Insider on Wednesday.

Once the Transport Ministry and SPAD have agreed on the need to recognise ride-hailing apps, then they can proceed to recognise a process where a private car can participate in ride-hailing apps. There must be a level playing field so that taxi drivers are not penalised by having to send their car ever six months for road-worthiness inspections. Road worthiness inspections are praiseworthy except for incidences, reportedly common, where taxi drivers can fail up to four times before their vehicles are passed.

Like taxi drivers, the drivers participating in ride-hailing services also have to get their PSV licenses and the yearly medical certificates. The medical certificate is mostly a paper process where the only difficulty
is to swallow ethics and to buy the fake medical certificate for RM30 or thereabouts depending on the Road Transport Department’s location.

As for insurance, the financial institutions are ready to collect the premiums as long as they are allowed to insure cars participating in ride-hailing apps. This is one area where the Ministry of Transport and SPAD need to engage.

Even though Elon Musk, the software billionaire who also built the autonomy-enabled Tesla S, says that self-driving vehicles will be technically possible by 2017, we must face the reality that driver shortage is a worldwide reality and Malaysia is not spared for the next decade.

It’s time that the government invest in driver training programmes.

This can be via vocational institutues or HRDF funded re-training programmes. What happens now is that transport company don’t invest in driver training because of job-hopping and staff-pinching. The best way then is to create a bigger pool of drivers and for the government to fund a commercial vehicle driver training programme including 200 hours practical training.

Welcome 2016, more efficient bus systems that get commuters to work on time, ride hailing apps, government-funded or subsidised commercial vehicle driver training.

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About Tony Yew

Tony Yew has been a motoring contributor to CBT since 2009 and took up a full time position in Oct 2015, as Web editor, Head of Digital Media. His role is to expand the reach of cbt.com.my and hope that the readers of CBT will continue to support this media.

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